It may just be man's most maddening flaw: as soon as we are given what we want, we want something more—or worse, something entirely different. Our old desires become obsolete and our new ones unfulfilled.
This is especially true of sex: when we're single, we want to kill every couple we see holding hands; when we're in relationships, we envy the carefree lifestyle of unattached hook-ups. When we're living the carefree hook-up life, we grow sick of it; when we're seriously involved, we wonder what we could be missing out on. It should be simple—after all, college is the time when we're supposed to transition to the real world, the land of no confusion. And yet somehow, here we are, incredibly confused.
The thing is, in the land of no confusion, people date. The beauty of dating is how easy it makes everything: if you're interested in somebody, you take them out for dinner or a movie. If you're still interested, you ask them out again. There's no need to worry about whether the other person is interested: if they asked you out or said yes to the date, you know. Dating has the perfect amount of gray area: the relationship can easily stay casual and on-and-off or slowly develop into something more.
Dating just isn't in our repertoire at Columbia. If I were to write a column about how many people you can date at once, or how many dates a week is too much or too little, no one would know what I was talking about. It isn't that college students don't get into relationships—it would take more than both my hands combined to count how many couples I know—but there is no in-between hooking up without attachments and, as one of my co-editors so eloquently put it, the "college marriage."
I honestly couldn't say that my frustration with our lack of dating skills has nothing to do with getting more free fancy dinners, but the reality is far more complicated. So we don't date—but then how do we let someone know we're interested without being overly intense? If you invite him to go to a party with you, will he know that you like him or will he just assume you're being kind? More importantly, how will you know if he likes you back? Too often we have to resort to flat-out telling him or her, which, as much as I promote honesty, makes for far too many awkward situations.
Our college addiction to random hook-ups only makes it harder. We set a whole different standard for unattached hook-ups than potential love interests: it's fine to have sex with an unattached hook-up on the first night, but doing that with a potential love interest is absolutely forbidden. Then what happens when an unattached hook-up develops into something more? It's been scientifically proven that if you have sex with someone more than once, you inadvertently become emotionally attached. And although I've seen the unattached hook-up transition into the "college marriage" on a couple of occasions, it's never simple.
Even when people get together by means other than the random hook-up, there are generally very few, if any, official dates involved. Within days of kissing each other for the first time, two friends of mine were referring to each other as boyfriend and girlfriend. Another friend of mine, after spending just two nights hanging out with a girl he was interested in, felt obligated to tell her he wasn't ready for a serious relationship. OK, hold on a second, buddy. You hadn't gone out alone together yet—nobody said anything about a relationship.
Most of the time we just don't know what's going on with the person we are "hooking up" with or "hanging out" with or "seeing." We don't know what to tell ourselves about the person we're interested in, nor do we know what to tell our friends. "Hooking up" and "hanging out" and "seeing" become euphemisms for situations we don't understand. And not because we want it to be that way either. I can't tell you how many conversations I've had with friends—girls and guys alike—berating this insane confusion and contemplating how much easier it would be if we dated.
But after listening to these angered conversations and experiencing the ensuing craziness, I'm not convinced that dating is the answer. Whether we like it or not, there's a reason why we don't date and older people do. Of course it sucks and is incredibly annoying, but college is a time of soul searching.
We don't always know who we are or what we want. It's OK to be confused and gravitate to extremes. As hard as it is, sometimes you learn more about yourself than you would otherwise.